On April 30, 1997 during The Puppy Episode of Ellen, the titular character came out as a lesbian, and the relationship between brand marketers and the LBGTQ+ community would never be the same. It’s not that brands universally embraced the moment – many advertisers notably sat the episode out – but it was a start. Brands could no longer ignore gay audiences.
In the 22 years since, brands have gone from nervously debating if advertising on a TV show starring a lesbian was too controversial to actively courting the LBGTQ+ community. Over time, Madison Avenue began waking up to what a huge marketing opportunity they were missing out on.
A Kantor Consulting/Hornet study found that LGBT buying power totaled nearly $1 trillion in 2016. In that same year, a U.S. Treasury department report found that same-sex male couples have an average household income of $176,000 which was about $63,000 higher than opposite sex couples.
Additionally the 12th annual LGBTQ Community Survey by Community Marketing & Insightsfound that 78% of the LGBTQ community members in the United States say they’re more likely to purchase from companies that market to and support the LGBTQ community.
The benefits of participating in Pride Month are obvious, but outreach is not without risk. For brands whose messaging feels inauthentic, the backlash will instantly erase any goodwill.
Here’s the playbook for brands to be allies and not alienating around Pride Month:
Tip #1: Don’t Be A Community Tourist
Relationships are built over time. Penning a single Instagram post wishing people a Happy Pride Month, is at best not going to register and at worst rub people the wrong way. In a recent surveyby INTO magazine and Brand Innovators, only 15.6% of 4,100 LGBTQ respondents felt “very positive” towards companies that only have campaigns targeting them during Pride. In contrast, 40% of respondents felt positively towards brands that work LGBTQ themes into their messaging on a ‘regular or continual basis’.
If you want to make a lasting impression with the LBGTQ+ community, you have to be there the other 11 months of the year.
Tip #2: Show Every Day Life, Not Just Rainbows
Too often brands around Pride Month settle for just sharing a post showing the rainbow flag or sticking it on clothing, without focusing on what that symbol actually stands for. Rainbows are great, but actual representation in advertising is even more meaningful.
It was only back in 1994 that IKEA aired the first mainstream gay ad, and the LGBTQ+ community is still waiting to have their normal, everyday life portrayed in advertising with regularity. We need more campaigns like the Cheerios spot showing two gay dads having a bowl of Cheerios with their adopted daughter or Gillette showing a father teaching his transgender son to shave for the first time.
ListenFirst found there was a 48% increase in Cheerios Fan Growth on social media in the month that ad with two dads was released, comparing October to September 2014. Meanwhile around their groundbreaking ad featuring a transgender son learning how to shave, Gillette’s Conversation Score on Twitter increased by 187%, ListenFirst found comparing May 2019 to April.
The quantifiable success of these campaigns speaks to how increased representation is what will resonate with the audience, not flags.
Tip #3: Shine the Spotlight On Organizations Doing The Work
A lot of great non-profits are out there championing the rights of the at-risk portions of the LBGTQ+ community. Sometimes the most authentic thing for a brand to do around Pride Month is to shift the focus to the people and programs on the front lines of outreach. For instance, SAGE is the country’s largest nonprofit devoted to offering support to and advocacy for LGBT seniors; Sylvia Rivera Law Project which provides free legal representation for transgender, gender-nonconforming, and intersex people. GLSEN is a national education organization that works towards making K-12 schools safer and more welcoming for LGBT students.
Promoting or partnering with these types of organizations will turn the attention where it’s most needed, while also illustrating your brand’s substantive commitment to LBGTQ+ issues.
Tip# 4: Put Your Money Where Your Slogan Is
That said, it’s also important that you not only promote these worthy non-profits but that you are also financially supportive as well. Some great examples from Pride this year include Harry’s razors offering a limited-edition Shave with Pride set, with 100% of profits going to The Trevor Project, which focuses on suicide prevention among young people in the community, and The Human Rights Campaign, which works towards adoption of LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices. Between May 15 – June 15, 2019, ListenFirst found that Tweets including both the @harrys and @TrevorProject handles generated an estimated 20.K impressions.
Brands can also do a straight up donation match, like Starbucks is doing with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, which focuses on mental health services for LGBTQ people. ListenFirst data shows that between June 1-15, 2019, the Tweet announcing their Lady Gaga Foundation match generated 2,525 Responses, the most for any Starbucks Tweet during that time period.
However, what you want to avoid is donating a “portion” of the profits of a product to a charitable organization. Don’t hedge on goodwill, trying to make a quick buck on money consumers intended to benefit a charity could be viewed as tacky.
Tip #5: Make Sure Your Message Is Consistent With Your Actions
If you’re a retail brand selling Pride clothing that was made in countries like India and Bangladesh where homosexuality is criminalized, there’s going to be a public backlash to that campaign. If you work at a brand where your owner or top executives are consistently donating to anti-gay organizations, there’s absolutely no way Pride Month messaging will be well received.
Brands can’t be pro-equality only part of the time; they need to be supportive of the LGBTQ+ community in every aspect of their business, including employee benefits, or their outreach could end up being exposed as hypocritical.
While there are some definite best practices we outlined around brand engagement during Pride Month, ultimately the most effective way to appear authentic is to be authentic. If equality and basic human rights for all people regardless of sexuality or how they self identify is genuinely important to you that will come across in brand messaging. Brands are often far more transparent than they realize, and positivity towards the LGBTQ+ community coming from a real place will be felt.
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